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The Intellectual Bankruptancy of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Fideistic Scientism

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I direct attention to the following interview snippet that took place on The Nerdist podcast. (March 7, 2014) with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The same regards philosophical endeavors:

Interviewer: At a certain point it’s just futile.

deGrasse Tyson: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?

2nd Interviewer: I think a healthy balance of both is good.

deGrasse Tyson: Well, I’m still worried even about a healthy balance. Yeah, if you are distracted by your questions so that you can’t move forward, you are not being a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world. And so the scientist knows when the question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a pointless delay in our progress.

deGrasse Tyson: How do you define clapping? All of a sudden it devolves into a discussion of the definition of words. And I’d rather keep the conversation about ideas. And when you do that don’t derail yourself on questions that you think are important because philosophy class tells you this. The scientist says look, I got all this world of the unknown out there, I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind. You can’t even cross the street because you are distracted by what you are sure are deep questions you’ve asked yourself. I don’t have the time for that.

Interviewer: I also felt that it was a fat load of crap, as one could define what crap is and the essential qualities that make up crap:how you grade a philosophy paper?

deGrasse Tyson: Of course I think we all agree you turned out okay.

Interviewer: Philosophy was a good Major for comedy, I think, because it does get you to ask a lot of ridiculous questions about things.

deGrasse Tyson: No, you need people to laugh at your ridiculous questions.

Interviewer: It’s a bottomless pit, it just becomes nihilism.

deGrasse Tyson: Nihilism is a kind of philosophy.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a well respected astrophysicist who was mentored by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, who is probably most well known for his work with the PBS series Cosmos. In fact, Dr. Tyson is currently at the helm hosting the latest reboot of the Cosmos series, broadcast on both FOX and the National Geographic channel.

It would appear Dr. Tyson has come under some fire from the philosophical community for his above comments… and I believe rightly so.

Essentially, Dr. Tyson has passed judgment upon philosophical endeavors, and determined the same to be a distracting and wasteful use of time.

That is… except for his own philosophy.

It would seem Dr. Tyson is not open minded to entertaining other philosophies, but would expect us to simply accept his own philosophical view of naturalistic materialism. Is the reason Dr. Tyson is so disparaging of philosophy due to a fear of his own worldview being incapable to stand up to philosophical scrutiny?

There is an inherent element of question begging and self-refutation within Dr. Tyson’s position. He asserts his own philosophy while at the same time denouncing philosophy as a whole. He assumes his philosophy is the correct one and would simply dismiss any challenges to that worldview. It appears as if Dr. Tyson has adopted a fideistic approach to his own philosophy. Fideistic meaning, a reliance upon faith rather than reason and rationality.

Why should we simply accept Dr. Tyson’s philosophy of naturalistic materialism? Because he says so…? What grants his worldview the special privilege of being above criticism and scrutiny? Is he aware of the problems associated with his philosophy? Such as its inability to account and provide for universal abstracts (such as logic and transcendental laws), the uniformity of nature (induction), and morality (without the same being derived arbitrarily). Perhaps he is familiar with the same and that is the reason, in that he seeks to avoid any philosophical interrogation of his own worldview.

©2013 AMNH, Photo by Roderick Mickens

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:3, KJV)

James D. Lashley


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